The Origins of Sheffield City Morris Men:
Medup
1, We Did it Our Way

A paper presented to a conference at Sheffield University in 1987 organised by the Department of Lore & Language

Dave Eyre, John Newman, and Peter Delamere

Editor's note: This article consists of separate sections by each of the three co-authors who are credited accordingly.

Background: Dave Eyre

The formation of Sheffield City Morris Men (SCMM) dates back to 1975 when Bob Hazelwood came back to Sheffield from London. While living in London in the early 1970s, Bob had been associated with Chingford Morris Men and had been impressed by two things:

1. They were a very showy and entertaining team.
2. They had the beginnings of a tradition of their own.

Chingford's foreman, Geoff Hughes, had taken the limited information provided on the Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance in Lionel Bacon's A Handbook of Morris Dancing2 and used this as a basis for devising a stick dance for the team. In fact it is worth noting that most teams that perform the "Upton Stick Dance" are actually dancing the Chingford version.

Sheffield City Morris was started, therefore, as an attempt to form a team which embodied the qualities Bob had found at Chingford. He wanted a team that would be, in his words, "fit, young, sexy, worked hard at what they were doing, and who would create something new."3 Bob got together some people he knew through the folk clubs in Sheffield, and this embryonic team began practising on May 1st, 1975.

The first dances the team learned were based on those found at Bampton in Oxfordshire. There were primarily two reasons for this. The first was that Bob played the anglo-concertina and the melodeon and was fond of the tunes. Secondly, he believed that the single stepping central to this tradition provided a solid foundation for the development of a team style. Within a year the dances were Bampton in name, tune, and figures but "new" in style. There were certain minor adaptations, such as beginning on the right foot rather than the left, and quite deliberately maintaining the dancing momentum for the back step, rather than relaxing into the "rolling walk" style common to many teams. Bob also created and taught his version of what he thought the Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance would look like, based on his experience with Chingford as well as the available information.

This developing style was also informed by the fact that from the beginning it was obvious that the club would be an urban Morris team performing in city centres for the benefit of the public, rather than going around country pubs for the benefit of themselves. The style, therefore, had to be as showy and entertaining as possible. One of the ways in which it was thought this could be achieved was to emphasise the use of the handkerchiefs. Although an audience may be initially attracted by the sound of the bells and the music, what they see is not the feet but the hands and the handkerchiefs. This being the case, we decided to fully extend the arms, flick the handkerchiefs upwards, and then let them float down as slowly as possible. The stepping was built around this so that the coordination between the handwork and footwork is very exact.

This precision was an obvious focal point of the practice sessions in the early years, yet the weekly practices also involved rigorous physical training. Bob took the view that anyone who danced out with Sheffield City Morris would have to be very fit in order to sustain a long tour, so it was quite common to spend fifteen minutes at a time capering around the room!

While potentially making Bob unpopular, this kind of hard driving set an atmosphere of discipline and determination conducive to later repertoire developments. Bob had tried to start the best Morris team in the world. Second best would be a team that only occasionally hit "the high spots". This took a tremendous amount of drive, initiative and, not to put too fine a point on it, autocracy. If the philosophy and objectives he established had any validity, the team would survive and grow after he had left.

Factors leading to the development of Medup:
John Newman

When I took over the foreman's post from Bob Hazelwood in 1977, the team was facing several difficulties. These problems, along with one significant factor, led to the development of our own dance style. The problems were:

  1. The unsuitability of Bledington as a second tradition.
  2. The team's isolation and immaturity.
  3. The new foreman's personal difficulties.

The factor was:

The connection with Chingford Morris Men.

The Bledington Problem

For the first year the team practised and danced Bampton only. However, we saw ourselves as a performance team and we felt that Bampton, with no stick dances, limited our performance. To widen the team's repertoire for the second year, then, Bob introduced the Bledington style. He had danced this with Chingford, and although confident to teach it, never was particularly happy with it as a tradition to complement Bampton. The basic problem was the double step. The majority of dancers in the team were new to Morris in particular and, like many men, new to dance movement in general.

It may be useful here to outline our practice methods at the time. Although we practised all year round, the new season, at which time we took on new dancers, would begin in September after our Annual General Meeting. A great deal of emphasis was placed on achieving a common stepping style. Beginners would spend several weeks practising the steps only. Once an acceptable standard had been achieved, then the handkerchief would be introduced. When the dancers had these basics right, only then would figures be danced. In fact, the experienced dancers would not actually practise complete dances until, perhaps, February. Each week, one figure would be concentrated on, and at the end of the session a complete dance might be performed, more for recreational purposes than "serious" practise. It would be fair to say that practice nights, as indicated above, were an arduous business consisting of sweat and application with little inspiration.

In order to facilitate adding the Bledington dances to our repertoire, the team was split into two groups. The beginners, who numbered about six, were taught Bampton, as it formed the core of our performable repertoire, and only the fourteen experienced dancers were introduced to Bledington. Despite this experience and the nature of the practice sessions, we never achieved the team's high, self-imposed standard when performing the Bledington dances in public. The beginners also faced the problem of regularly practising without experienced dancers. When year three arrived the problem was further compounded. We then had a team consisting of fourteen dancers proficient in both Bampton and Bledington, six Bampton only dancers, and about six complete beginners. The logistics for organising practice nights were obviously immense.

To persevere with Bledington, then, seemed fraught with difficulties, although it must be said that the public display was improving. Nevertheless, when I took over from Bob the team decided to look for an alternative second tradition, preferably based on a single step.

Isolation and immaturity

It would be fair to say that Bob Hazelwood and other senior dancers had a low opinion of the standards of most Morris dance teams at that time. On occasions this had been volubly expressed, and in order that Sheffield City Morris not be "tainted" by others' bad habits, we were consciously kept away from other teams. We had also to live up to our voiced high standards, and failure in front of other teams was unthinkable. The exception to this rule was our association with Chingford Morris Men, which will be discussed further below.

Although we did not actively discourage dancers joining us who had previously danced with other teams, we did not encourage them either. If they came from a team that danced several traditions they were likely to be bored by our limited repertoire. We also expected newcomers to start with the beginners' class on basic stepping. The "experienced" newcomer either lasted for only two practices or, more rarely, stuck it out and became an excellent dancer for Sheffield City. While this isolationist approach enabled us more easily to establish a club, corporate style of dancing, it nevertheless inevitably led to a dearth of knowledge about the Morris in general.

The new foreman's problems

This is obviously a personal viewpoint. Whilst not wishing to emphasise the problem too much, I feel that my personal makeup in relation to the team was a factor which contributed to the development of our style. For the first couple of years I had difficulty in coping with interpersonal relationships, as I was an apprentice-served engineer who had progressed to a low grade white collar job while the majority of the team were university graduates who were now teachers, lecturers, etc. To compensate for my own perceived inadequacies, therefore, I worked extremely hard at the dancing. I had never done any sort of dancing before, and they say I was a very poor beginner. However, I was willing to practise the basic stepping for long periods with no complaint, and I regularly practised at home. Through sheer hard work and repetition I trained myself to become a precise, if not natural dancer.

From what has already been said the reader can tell that Bob Hazelwood was a tough act to follow. He was uncompromising in his pursuit of excellence, which inevitably rubbed off onto the team as a whole, and made an indelible impression on myself; who, at twenty four years of age, was the youngest member of the team at that time. When I took over as foreman I had only danced for two years, and while being surrounded by what I considered to be my social and intellectual superiors, I also had the ghost of Bob Hazelwood to exorcise.

A rather significant incident also occurred at this time. Trevor Beckford, an ex-Chingford foreman, came to study at the University of Sheffield. He made contact with the team, purely for social reasons, and I fell into conversation with him concerning the role of a new foreman. He gave me some timely and crucial advice. He told me to make a mark for myself as quickly as possible, that is, do something that the team would relate to as my own. He suggested that the team and I would gain mutual confidence, and, as will be clarified below, I took this advice very much to heart.

The Chingford factor

The debt that Sheffield City Morris owes to Chingford Morris cannot be understated. They were Bob's inspiration and the team's yardstick for dancing excellence. The first time we danced with them was just after many of their experienced members had left to form another Morris team, the Albion Morris Men. I was in awe; if this Chingford team was but the residue, what was the team like before the split? They danced brilliant Morris and dazzling rapper and were involved in the training of a boys' team who amazed us with their speed and precision. Chingford had also developed dances and created their own style.

With our isolated existence, the making up of Morris dances was not taboo, but rather the natural progression of the ideals. Sheffield City Morris Men had often talked about developing their dances and saw that option as a long term project. However, as outlined above, the seeds which had been sown made the development occur much more rapidly.

Making a mark:
The Upton-on-Severn Handkerchief Dance

Having decided that an impression must be made and that Bledington must go, it was inevitable that the "Black Book", Lionel Bacon's A Handbook of Morris Dancing, was scoured for inspiration. I have the utmost appreciation for this work, but for a dancer with my limitations, it was of little use. As Bacon himself states, the book is an "aide-memoire"4 rather than a training manual. With my lack of experience the book had no memory to jog. The only thing that caught my eye were the notes on the Upton-on-Severn Handkerchief Dance. The most distinctive feature of this Upton dance is what we call the "set change" whereby numbers one and six, who are at opposite corners, approach each other and the set reorientates itself so that one and six are the middle couple (see Figure 1). In fact, Bob had already developed the Upton figures, so with only hand waving and the set-change figure to develop this seemed the ideal vehicle to "boost my ego".

This was, of course, more difficult than I had anticipated. How does one develop a method of hand waving that is neither a straight "lift" from another tradition nor a complicated and contrived attempt at uniqueness? What was developed is as follows: both arms work together, each held at a right angle at the elbow, similar to a child pretending to be a steam engine. From this starting position the arms are thrown upwards on beat one, describe a horizontal circle (right hand moving clockwise and left counterclockwise) on beat two, and are lowered back to the starting position on beat three. I imagine some readers are thinking, "Surely, that's what Chipping-of-the-Bush do" or "He said things could become contrived, and he was right." If it is from "Chipping-of-the-Bush", I offer both thanks and apology to that tradition. To those who view the movement as contrived, I would perhaps ask them to see the movement in performance, and then I will quite willingly accept their criticism.

To some extent, perhaps the arm movements we developed for the Upton Handkerchief Dance are contrived, for while they are executed within the space of three beats, a single step takes one beat but commonly occurs in groups of two or four as dictated by the music. This means that the arms and feet are not fully coordinated, and this led to further complications when working on a transition into the set change. Because of its distinctive nature, we wanted to draw attention to the set change feature, and we found that leading into it with four capers added flare without complexity. So, in relation to standard eight bar, or sixteen beat, Morris tunes, this transition would consist of twelve single steps and four capers. When we tried this, however, we discovered that the arms, after twelve beats, were down, in the starting position, making it very awkward to go immediately into four capers. The choices were either to put in a feint step, change the hand movement, or alter the music to twenty beats so that the arms would be in the raised position before the capers. Not wishing to alter the hand movement, and finding the feint steps in Bledington unappealing, we chose to find music that fitted the dance, that is, twenty beat music. After some searching, we discovered the tune "Oats and Beans and Barley".

The Development of Medup

Having scoured the "Black Book" for a Bledington replacement with no success, other than the development of the Upton Handkerchief Dance, the team was still in a dilemma. We needed to replace Bledington quickly, so at the A.G.M. at the end of year three it was decided to develop our own dances.

From the start there were certain unspoken objectives we felt had to be achieved. We undoubtedly wished to develop what may be called a "dance tradition", that is, a series of dances based on common figures with different choruses that made each dance different. The common figures would also follow the order and pattern of "traditional" dances as we knew them: Foot Up, Foot Down, Half Gyp, Whole Gyp, and Rounds. The number of basic steps should also be kept to a minimum. We started with a series of single steps followed by four plain capers and only relatively recently introduced a new type of step. This is a combination of one single step and one plain caper called a "step caper". Although not fully appreciated at the time, this minimalism, especially in the stepping, is the strength of our style. However, with a small amount of building material the development of dances is slow and requires significant imagination. In addition to attending to the actual structure of the dance, we also recognised that developing a dance tradition presented certain stylistic requirements that had to be met. The figures should be big and cover a lot of ground. Lines should appear and disappear quickly, and the arm movements should be distinct so that they attract attention. Our primary criteria, then, were that the dance tradition we developed should involve uncluttered stepping and eye-catching upper body and set movements.

Given these objectives, there was a certain inevitability that the new style should emerge out of the Upton dances. We already had the steps and the hand movements which we had developed for the Upton Handkerchief Dance. All we needed to do was to create some different figures.

Developing the figures

The basic Medup figures are:

Cast
Angles
Three Top
Half Rounds
Circle

Occasional figure (danced as part of the chorus):

Hey

The Hey and Circle figures are borrowed directly from our version of the two Upton dances. The others are described below as they are danced today:

CAST: Facing across the set, dance four single steps on the spot, numbers one and two turn away from each other and cast to the bottom of the set, then up the middle back to place, turning away from each other to face in. All others follow in their lines behind numbers one and two, that is, three and five behind one, and four and six behind two.

ANGLES: Facing partner across the set dance four single steps to pass right shoulders, turn and move to the right for two, and turn to face partner for two. Then, in two single steps, dance towards partner as if to collide, but before collision turn rapidly to the left 180 degrees to miss partner and dance two single steps backwards into place and finish with four steps in place. This figure describes, for each dancer, a right triangle with the hypotenuse being the first line of travel. Incidentally, this is the only Medup figure which involves back steps.

THREE TOP: This figure is based on the figure of the same name in the Upton tradition, that is, a reel of three with the middles dancing with the end pairs to their respective rights. Where Medup differs, however, is that numbers two and five (opposite corners) do not join in with the reel but dance around each other in a large figure of eight, passing by left and then right and temporarily joining the reel at the other end of the set.

HALF ROUNDS: Facing across the set, pass right shoulders with partner, turn immediately to the right, and circle to the right until the set has turned through a right angle. From here pass left shoulders and dance to the left back to place. The middle dancers, in effect, dance a figure of eight with each other, while the end couples change the angle of the set ninety degrees.

This brief description of the figures, as mentioned above, is the way they are currently danced. The figures are listed in the order in which they are danced, not as they were developed. What follows is an explanation of their development, as I remember it. I offer apology to any member of Sheffield City Morris who helped in a significant way to develop a figure, but who is lost in the morass of my memory. We have never been great note-takers, and on the one occasion that detailed notes were made, the team refused to believe them! Indeed, I admit that, as a foreman, I always fought shy of the written word and actively discouraged it.

ANGLES: This figure was developed on a graph pad by myself shoving six coins about. At a human level, Alec Thompson, musician and previous foreman, and I together tried out many of the ideas I came up with, and I am sure that his good taste, and the commonsense of the team as a whole, put a stop to some of my more bizarre graph pad routines.

THREE TOP: This started life as a straight borrowing from Upton. However, those who have danced Upton, or even a reel of three, will be aware that numbers two and five seem to spend an age killing time before they start moving. We tried a number of different ways to solve this problem but with no lasting success. An idea was offered from the unlikely source of Pete Smith, a man seemingly more interested in the social aspects of the Morris club than in developing the dances. Pete's suggestion was initially dismissed out of hand, but again Trevor Beckford was there and said that it sounded like a good idea. Reluctantly six dancers were pressed to try the idea, and, indeed, it worked very well. The team had to eat humble pie and Pete's Three Top is his share in immortality.

HALF ROUNDS: This was a tempered graph pad figure as well. I had a basic concept for the set to change through ninety degrees but was achieving it in a most contrived and ungainly way. Trevor was making one of his flying visits and was bemusedly watching the embryo figure. He stepped forward and suggested we do what became the figure we now dance. This is my favourite figure and I have only recently forgiven Trevor for his help!

CAST: I have left this figure until last as it is the weakest one, and I have no clear idea where it came from. This is perhaps where note-taking may have been useful.

From figures to dance

These figures were developed between September and Christmas of 1978. The practice methods of the team, as outlined above, allowed for this type of development; once a figure was accepted the team was quite happy to practise it ad nauseam, even without the promise of a complete dance. A major advantage to this seemingly ongoing introduction was that it gave the team and me a chance to get a feel for the style.

As our repertoire of stick dances was extremely small, we decided to develop a stick dance first. Furthermore, unlike handkerchief dances with the complication of matching arm movements and stepping, stick dances, which allow for little elaboration with the arms while moving, use "normal" sixteen beat music. As for many of our dances, a tune was found and the dance subsequently developed to it. In my perusals of the Black Book, I had come across a Bampton tune called "The Furze Field" which I also knew as a song, and was quite fond of. As we rarely practised with musicians in those days, the foreman and dancers would make mouth music and it was essential that the foreman be very familiar with the tune.

Readers who have tried to develop Morris dances will perhaps agree with me in believing that stick dances are easier to devise than handkerchief dances. I began creating by simply humming a tune to myself and listening to what the tune was telling me to do. Having received the tune's message, I took six compliant dancers and tried it out. They did the rest, offering minor advice and suggestions. Since we were used to double stick clashing choruses from Bledington, we opted for that format for this dance as well. We tried dancing a half hey between choruses, but this did not feel quite right. Instead we tried a cross-over figure a bit like half of an Angles figure. This was both different and enjoyable to dance. A momentous point was therefore reached: we had a complete dance to practise and, I hoped, perform.

In order to establish the style as an all round "tradition" it was then necessary to develop a handkerchief dance. With the development of "The Furze Field" the pressure was off with regard to having something new to practise and perform. We now set about looking for twenty beat music again, for as mentioned above, handkerchief dances required twenty beat music to synchronise arm and leg movements. However, while looking for a suitable tune, we decided to begin work on the dance itself. This first handkerchief dance is unique, then, in that the chorus was devised before a tune was actually selected. The small range of steps available to the Medup dance deviser provided a limited range of options. Four pairs of single steps plus four plain capers fitted the style without feint steps, so this was chosen as the stepping for the chorus. We also opted for a corner dance. When practising this chorus I had the music of "Lillibulero" in my head which seemed to complement the steps. I occasionally sang this tune to help the dance along, and Alec Thompson eventually took the line of least resistance in the search for music by adapting "Lillibulero" to suit our twenty beat requirement. He simply added an extra bar to the 'A' part of the tune (see Figure 2), and this "doctoring" set a precedent for later developments. Since "Lillibulero" is also known as "Nottingham Ale" we suitably altered the title of the tune, and hence the dance, to "Nottingham Lil".

With these two dances forming the foundation on which to build, we could at last drop Bledington. We had a wide range of Bampton dances, the Upton Stick and Handkerchief Dances, and now two Medup dances. Although the repertoire was still drastically reduced, the consistent stepping style for all dances was established, making practice structured and subsequently contributing to a higher level of precision in performance. Yet this concern with the dance per se is not to undervalue the pleasure that the team has had in producing a style of our own and establishing a common objective.

I am sure that many dance teams would perhaps have called the new dances "Upton". However, we feel that our further amendments to the Upton, "as we dance it", would do little credit to the Upton dance tradition, which as a team we enjoy and appreciate. We acknowledge our debt to Upton, and it is out of respect towards Upton and an understanding of the differences that we chose to call our dances "Medup". If others choose to classify it as Upton that is all well and good, but we will continue to call it Medup and not enter philosophical debates. (But that is a philosophical debate! - Webmaster)

Methods of developing the repertoire:
Peter Delamere

The manner in which Medup dances have been developed has changed slightly over the past few years. In the early years of the development the foreman would usually introduce an idea to the team. It would often be a complete dance, such as "Nottingham Lil" or "Little Boney", which would be presented as a whole to the club. Over the past four years, however, we have changed this style of development and the following two methods have emerged:

(1) Brainstorming; that is six to eight people trying out ideas on each other.

(2) One person introducing a particular central idea and everyone chipping in to transform that idea into a chorus for the dance.

The overriding principle of these two ways of developing Medup has been that the fine details have been hammered out by the whole club; no one member has claimed to have a dance step perfect when first presented to the team. However, this state of affairs can present the foreman with difficulties. He may have his own ideas, and yet he may find himself simply adjudicating over different views of how to perform a particular chorus.

Since the figures of our Medup style have been standardised at five - Cast, Angles, Three Top, Half-rounds and Circle - the creation of new dances takes place primarily in the chorus. While this may sound simple, it must be viewed in the light of the problems inherent in practice sessions, as well as the demands of the performance context. New members have to be trained in our three styles: Bampton, Upton, Medup. Also, we often have to concentrate our efforts preparing for big bookings, such as national folk festivals and trips abroad. We are therefore left with little time for actually developing Medup.

Besides the logistical requirement of time, we need several other conditions in order to create dances within the Medup style:

(1) A good tune. This has become increasingly prerequisite as we need to keep up the interest of our musicians as well as our musical standards.

(2) Dancers with ideas, experience, and patience.

(3) One or more committed and patient musicians to help us marry tunes to ideas.

As a club, we know when a movement seems contrived, but we also collectively know when something feels right. However, even when certain movements have been agreed upon, there are often differing interpretations and in the end the foreman must be the final arbiter. Dropping the Bledington dances halved our repertoire, but we have managed to gradually fill that void with Medup dances. We have Medup hankie dances, Medup stick dances, Medup leapfrog, and Medup corner dances. These have been added at the rate of about one per year-seven in all so far with one currently in the making.

The Medup tradition is not limited to dancing, however. It also extends into our music, as mentioned above in the adaptation of the tune "Lillibulero", as well as into our involvement in mumming, the resurrection of the Green Man, and the creation of our eccentric Dancing Horse. Some activities have been peripheral, others more central, but all have helped to create the identity of Sheffield City Morris.

To return to the dancing, then, I see three ways forward:

(1) Resurrecting the dead Medup dances, ones which fell by the wayside during brainstorming. For example, set-change dances, the napping dance, and various eight man dances.

(2) Expansion of present repertoire, i.e. set figures with varying choruses.

(3) Jigs, double-jigs or other, unusual one-off dances.

Why do we go through all this hassle to produce a new dance tradition? Surely it would be easier to go back to the "Black Book" and root out some other tradition. But these traditions belong to others; Medup belongs to us. It is ours-the sole property of Sheffield City Morris Men. Once we have stated that principle and are committed to it, we have to develop the repertoire. Yet, in whatever manner we go forward, it will be decided by the club as a whole, observing, listening, experimenting, and above all, enjoying. If we didn't enjoy it, we would have packed up years ago.

 

 


Figure 1. Upton Set-Change (Adapted from L. Bacon, p.303)

 

 

 

 


Figure 2. "Nottingham Lil"

 

 

 

 



Repertoire of Medup dances as of March 1988

 

 

Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance

Three Jolly Fishermen

S

 

 

Upton-on-Severn Handkerchief Dance

Oats and Beans and Barley

H

 

 

Nottingham Lil

Nottingham Ale/Lillibulero

H

 

 

Furze Field

Furze Field

S

 

 

Little Boney

Little Boney

H

 

 

Strike the Bell

Strike the Bell

S

 

 

Leapfrog

Dorsetshire Hornpipe

H

 

 

Hazelwood

Don't Stop the Cavalry

S

 

 

Joseph Baker*

Joseph Baker

H

 

 


[N.B. It should be noted that since the dances rarely fit the tune exactly, the above tunes are generally heavily adapted.]

 

 


Notes

1. It may be of interest to explain why we call our style of dancing "Medup". It comes from the Sheffield expression "medupbeeuzzsenz" meaning "made up by ourselves".

2. Lionel Bacon, A Handbook of Morns Dancing (The Morris Ring, 1974), pp.302-303.

3. Tape-recorded interview with Bob Hazelwood, March 1988.

4. Bacon, ibid., p.i.

 

 

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